Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's June and You're Just Now Looking for Fall Craft Shows?


"Need a cheap craft show to be in on November 19th"  (June 15, 2012)

"Craft show-- need cheap booth opportunity for fall in _________, KY"

"I'm finally getting my butt in gear and looking for Christmas craft shows." (June 23, 2012)

"Need good holiday craft shows near _____________, CA"  (June 21, 2012)

"I have never done a craft show but I signed up to two thinking that I wouldn't get in to either of them...well I got in both.  Now, I am freaking out.  I have no idea if I can do enough inventory for both."

"I have done a total of 4 fairs this year and am starting to get a little irritated...the majority of the fair was full of home party vendors and people with import items."

I belong to a few craft & artisan groups that post questions and have conversations in online forums.  Lately I have been seeing lots of posts like the ones above.  It's June, Folks.  We're halfway through the year.  And you're just now thinking about looking for holiday shows?

Well, you'll probably easily find a $25 or $30 spot at a local church bazaar or high school show.  Their applications don't usually come out until a month or 2 before the show.  But do you know if that's even a good market for you?  Would you take a chance and spend even $25 to sit for 6 hours not knowing if you'll even sell one item?  I'd prefer to spend $100 to do an established show that I know attracts my kind of customers and maybe take home $500 or $600. 


Like any other business, handmade ventures require planning.  June is not the time to start thinking about doing fall or holiday shows.  But it could be a good time to start visiting shows, to scope them out, to do a little research.  Find shows you think you might like to do.  There are lots of ways you can find them online.  Then visit them. Is the show getting good customer traffic?  Check out the vendors who will be your competition and see if they are selling anything.  Watch people and see what kinds of booths attract them.  Some vendors might even be willing to talk to you and tell you if they're having a good day.  And if it looks like it might be a good show for you, find one of the organizers and ask how you can apply for next year. 

But if you see a lot of cheap resellers, move on to the next show

FYI--all this travel to do research can be a business deduction when you do your taxes.  Keep a record of mileage, meals, and admission fees.

In my first year I did a church bazaar and a PTO craft show.  I sold nothing at either.  My customers weren't there . So for the rest of the year I attended several shows I learned about online and from other vendors.  I made a spreadsheet listing each show I thought might be a good fit, application due dates, costs, etc.  And in December I planned what shows I would apply to the next year.  Yes, December.  Two of the shows I wanted to get into (a late summer and a fall show) had due dates of Jan. 15 and Feb. 1. 

I applied to mostly moderately priced shows and a couple of higher end shows ($200+).  In a few cases I had backup shows with later application deadlines that I could apply to if I didn't get into my first choice.  Does this require having a lot of money up front?  Yes, it might if you get over-zealous and apply to LOTS of shows.  Many of the checks aren't cashed until you're accepted and some not until a couple of weeks before the show, if that helps.

Also, be selective about the shows you apply to and space them out so you can plan how you'll replenish your inventory in time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Selling at Craft Fairs vs Selling Online

I check the Etsy forums a few times a week to see what kinds of changes Etsy has made to the website.  I also find threads about lots of other issues and one question that comes up at least monthly is whether vendors sell more at shows or on Etsy.  The short answer is--it depends on what your product is.

There are people whose sales on Etsy are in the thousands.  But jewelry, generally, is a product people need to see in person, handle, and try on.  Some people buy on the spot, others need to shop a little and then come back.  Because, of course, my jewelry is better made and more unique than anyone else's:)
I get very few questions from customers at craft shows beyond, "Do you have earrings to match?" and "Can you shorten this chain?"

But lately, in my Etsy shop, I've had lots of questions like...

    "What does the center stone weigh?"
    "Can you make those with yellow pearls?"
    "Can you put up a picture of a girl wearing these earrings?"
    "You say the stone is fuchsia but it looks pink on my screen."

I try to answer questions and send pictures requested asap even though they may not be perfectly set up.  And I have yet to receive a response let alone a sale.  It seems only polite to let me know you've changed your mind.  I think even in the short time between their interest in the product and my response they've already moved on.

I love doing craft shows (except in the rain) and hope I can continue to do them for a few more years.  I like personally seeing my customers and being able to talk to them.  I like knowing where my favorite pieces are going.  And I can sell more in one weekend than I sell all year online.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Look at Old Deerfield

I stopped at the Old Deerfield Summer Craft Fair and it's taken on a new look.  I don't see Yankee Candle mentioned in their ads nor on their website.  And there was no Yankee Candle presence that I could see at the show.  It appears that Ford is now the new sponsor of this series of craft fairs and they are not shy.  Maybe men will be more inclined to attend if there are trucks to shop for.

Things looked better this June compared to 2011.  If you look at last year's review the organizers filled space with a local Gutter Guard dealer.  I didn't see him this year.  Empty space normally filled with craft booths was taken up by a dinosaur exhibit (artisans were encouraged to create something with a dinosaur theme) and a large area with children's activities.  Traffic on Saturday was better than last year and I noticed people buying.  There were several bead jewelry vendors selling lower priced pieces and their booths were filled.  Sha Sha Beads in particular had lots of buyers for her gemstone strand bracelets at $20.  She makes wonderfully unique wire wrapped pendants at very affordable prices but the mass produced bracelets were getting more attention when I stopped in.

I bought some jam from Dondero Orchards who came up from South Glastonbury, CT.  They had some wonderful combinations of fruit like blueberries and rhubarb that tasted great.  They also offered homemade prize winning pies.

While there were several bead jewelers, the fair also included a couple of higher end artisans. The Green Gem Co. had a booth selling their green fluorite gemstones and finished jewelry, and Chris Lann, a silversmith was there from Brattleboro, VT.  Chris Lann has taken handmade to a whole new level.  He was demonstrating how he hand knits fine wire chains.  This in itself is a long, detailed process to create an 18" chain.  But I also learned that he's particular about the type of sterling silver he uses and wire is not available with that particular alloy. So he also makes his own very fine (maybe 26 gauge or less) wire.  He truly starts from scratch.  And his designs are beautiful.

Yellow school buses still shuttle people from Channing Bete and Yankee Candle headquarters.  The food tent, as always, was packed.  The double fried french fries were probably the most popular item.

Vendors can see more info on this show at:

Monday, June 11, 2012

More Questions than Answers after This Past Weekend's Craft Show

This past weekend I had a tent set up for the third year in a row at Celebrate West Hartford.   This show continues to puzzle me.  We did really well the first year and poorly last year.  And if you've read my reviews you know that it almost seemed as though a completely different population attended each year.

So this was my deciding year and this time both the population from 2010 and the one from 2011 attended--on different days.  Saturday was a bit rainy with intermittent sun.  Lots of people found their way into our tent but very few purchased anything.  They looked at prices and continued to the next tent. Jewelry on display ranged from $18 earrings to a $250 necklace with lots of pieces well under $100.  I strolled around and checked out other jewelers (there were over 30 of us at this event) and found that a couple of the people with bead strands were doing very well while higher end designers didn't seem to be so busy.

On Sunday we put out almost all new pieces in the same price range.  The show begins at noon on Sunday due to a road race but people start wandering through around 11. By noon there were thousands of people crowding the aisles of craft show booths.  Yet things still looked bleak at 2 pm when I made the decision not to apply to this show next year and a wave of customers appeared with their American Express cards to purchase multiple pieces and tell us how "reasonable" our prices are.  So we ended up selling almost as much as we did in 2010 and way more than 2011 but mostly within the span of a couple of hours on Sunday.

So do I apply to this show again next year and hope that the 2010 population shows up even if it's just for a couple of hours?

Do I raise my prices or lower them?  Actually, I've been using a suggested formula based on the cost of supplies and my time creating each design.  I've increased my prices a bit each year to cover the increased cost of silver and supplies and in an attempt to reach full retail. I'm still about 10%-20% away.  I feel badly that some people can't afford my jewelry but I think I feel worse when someone suggests I should be charging more. As if I don't value my work enough.  My daughter thinks I'm trying too hard to please everyone but my 2 lines of jewelry are at such opposite ends of the fashion trends that I'm really creating for 2 very different audiences.

$3000I was pleased to see so many people purchasing fine art this year, much more so than in past years.  There are some incredibly talented people at this show-- from Linda Tenukas oil paintings to the graphic designs of James Polisky and including the ceramic art of Gail Markewitz.

And John Cheer just blew me away.  This show was once primarily an arts festival and over time they've included more and more crafters.

So what is the future of art and craft shows?  I did 3 shows before West Hartford and sold little at 2 of them.  I took a ride to Mayfest in Vermont and found they are accepting resellers.  Are they not getting enough applications to fill all their spaces?  Are more shows desperate for booth fees going to head in the same direction?  As resellers increase artisans, who can't compete with their prices, will decrease.  Do people no longer appreciate locally handmade goods?  Can people no longer afford them?